Purple silk and cloth of gold

Later English sumptuary laws addressed dress and the social hierarchy in more detail. In 1363, later in the reign of Edward III, laws were passed prescribing the price and types of materials used for garments for servants, craftsmen, clergy, yeomen, merchants, knights, ploughmen, and their families—nearly everyone and at every station of society. The same law also prescribed the daily diet of servants.

By the next century, under Edward IV, we see the first iterations of the sumptuary laws that we are perhaps most familiar with today: those restricting the wearing of purple silk, sable fur, and cloth of gold to those of the rank of knight or lord and above.

24 Hen. 8 c 13 in page from statute book

This page from a small statute book shows the text of a 1533 “Acte for Reformacyon of Excesse in Apparayle” reiterating earlier laws restricting the color purple, cloth of gold, and imported wool.

Field of the Cloth of Gold painting

So much cloth of gold was on display during the 1520 summit between Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France that the meeting site became known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Note not only the cloth of gold cloak worn by Henry riding in the procession, but also the luxuriously ornamented cloth of gold and cloth of silver pavilions in the background!

Queen Elizabeth I coronation portrait

A closer view of cloth of gold trimmed with ermine and jewels is available in this sumptuous coronation portrait of Elizabeth I, whose reign began in 1558. Elizabeth also enacted sumptuary laws. Some re-enforced the laws passed by her predecessors, another specified the allowable length of swords and daggers, and one from 1562 returned to the matter of trade, restricting the sale of foreign apparel to subjects worth at least £3000 per year.